Storm take tentative first steps towards keeping Smith south

Melbourne Storm have kicked off negotiations with Australian captain Cameron Smith and hope to have him tied to the club for the rest of his career by the start of next season.
Nanjing Night Net

The NRL champions’ new owners were asked about the retention of Smith at their introductory media conference on Tuesday, with CEO Mark Evans saying he would leave the issue to the football department.

Football manager Frank Ponissi said the process had begun.

But Smith has admitted a return to Queensland at the end of next season is a tempting proposition.

”We have had some preliminary talks with Cameron so yes, it’s a process that has started,” Ponissi said.

”So far, it’s been very, very informal but without a shadow of a doubt, we want to retain him.

”Hopefully we will have it done before we start next season so it’s not hanging over our heads.”

Ponissi agreed a decision before the 2014 premiership kicks off was only desirable if Smith agreed to stay. Otherwise, they’d keep talking.

Speaking before the World Club Challenge in February, Smith said: ”When I first started playing, I thought if I ever had the chance to play first grade, I want to be a one-club player. But things change.

”I’ve got a family now with three kids where we’re living away from the rest of our family, which is up in Queensland, and sometimes it’s hard. Footy’s been great, the club’s been great, we love Melbourne. But sometimes it’s difficult when you have to travel. It’s hard for the wife to look after three kids. These are issues you face in life.”

The Storm arrived in Sydney for Saturday’s clash with the Roosters, who are on a five-match winning steak, on a slightly delayed mid-afternoon flight.

After his clash with North Queensland prop James Tamou last Saturday, Rooster Luke O’Donnell is expected to again try to match the aggression of suspended Rooster Jared Waerea Hargreaves.

”Everybody gets excited about playing against their former club but Luke’s an aggressive player and we won’t expect anything less from him on Saturday night,” Storm coach Craig Bellamy said. ”He’s a highly decorated player, he’s played for his country and State of Origin.”

Rooster Anthony Minichiello said on Friday: ”Over the last couple of weeks we’ve got confidence out of those tough slog games where neither team has played their best.”

The media conference was interrupted by a spontaneous rendition of Happy Birthday. Minichiello turned 32 on Friday.

Sydney Roosters have conceded just 16 points in their past five games at Allianz Stadium and last week conceded a try by means other than a kick for the first time in more than a month.

Meanwhile, South Sydney winger Nathan Merritt’s push for a belated NSW jumper has received support from Bulldogs champion Hazem El Masri, AAP reports. El Masri became the Blues’ oldest debutant in 2007 when, at 31, he scored a try and kicked three goals in an 18-4 victory.

Merritt has been overlooked often for centres being played out of position, but El Masri said. ”It’s good to get a specialist winger to play there. I think he’d do a wonderful job. He can sniff a try out of nowhere.”

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